Rated PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking, 110 minutes
Entertaining, glossy "Amelia" skims the surface
Amelia Earhart was a true pioneer in advancing the role of women in society, not to mention her vast contributions to the world of aviation. The new biographical film "Amelia" is an affecting, handsomely-filmed look at a small part of her life, though it summarizes too many details and falls short in detailing her true inspiration to become a pilot. Well-cast and sublimely directed by Mira Nair, "Amelia" isn't completely satisfying but is worth a look particularly for aviation and history buffs.
It's the early 1930's, and the young Earhart (played by Hilary Swank) is slowly making a name for herself as a woman pilot. George Putnam (Richard Gere), is a successful promoter who takes Earhart under his wing and helps her become a celebrity in the throes of the U.S. Depression. The ambitious Earhart makes a name for herself but her real dream is to fly solo across the globe. She and Putnam become romantically involved during this time and they marry, and he secures a state-of-the-art Electra airplane, funded by Purdue University where Earhart was a visiting faculty member, to help her achieve her goal. After gaining considerable experience flying, in the summer of 1937 she finally sets out on her mission of flying solo around the globe, only to meet with ill-fated results.
"Amelia" is a sensitive portrayal of the aviation pioneer, and the top-notch, glossy production is both engaging and empty, and isn't quite a fully realized portrait of a towering figure. Earhart had such a intriguing life, particularly early on, that it's unfortunate that the film leaves out many, many details of her life, and skims over the real source of inspiration for her and how she got her start flying; it picks up in 1931 and focuses on her later career and her marriage to Putnam. Not that it's dull or uninteresting, but the foundation of Earhart's career seems to be missing.
Even with that, it's fitting that a skilled female director like Nair ("The Namesake") undertakes a challenging project like "Amelia." She's serviceable in handling the the flying scenes and some of the exchanges between Earhart and Putnam are emotionally engaging. It also helps that she has a great cast that performs ably: Swank gives another excellent performance and strikingly resembles Earhart, memorably evoking images of the real aviatrix. Gere, normally an acquired taste for many, is also well-cast as Earhart's promoter husband and he and Swank have decent chemistry together. Watch for recent Emmy winner Cherry Jones ("24") in a few brief, amusing scenes as Eleanor Roosevelt.
If you've read the history books, you know that Earhart went missing over the Pacific Ocean in July, 1937 and was never heard from again. It's unfortunate that Earhart's career was cut short. "Amelia" is a soft-edged look, it's entertaining and the handsome production elements, including music, costumes and photography, are all in place and it certainly evokes the feel of the 1930's. "Amelia" is a good film that could've been great, as it only treads the surface of the personal life of a legendary figure.